Flee from sexual immorality to the Savior who holds all the joy and satisfaction you’re looking for.
What do you think is the most repeated command in the Bible?
It’s not any of the prohibitions or warnings. It’s not about sex, or money, or power. The most repeated command in the Bible will probably surprise you: Be happy. God tells us more than anything else, in different ways, to “praise the Lord,” “do not be afraid,” “rejoice,” and “give thanks” — all of which are commands, in essence, to be happy.
Don’t move past this too quickly. Let it sink in: more than anything else, God commands us to be happy. God wants you to be truly, deeply happy. Not just in heaven someday. Not when circumstances take a turn for the better. Not when the sorrow or the darkness finally lifts. God wants you to taste real joy today. Now.
I in no way mean to trivialize the trials you may be experiencing. The suffering may be exquisite, the sorrow almost drowning, the fear near paralyzing. The Bible is as real-life as it gets. God says a lot about sin, sorrow, grief, pain, betrayal, failure, fear, horror, and wretchedness. But if you can believe it, God’s dominant theme is joy.
God wants us to know the kind of hope that has the power to produce joy in us even in painful places. He repeatedly commands us to be really, truly, deeply happy.Why Does God Repeat Himself?
When God repeats himself, pay attention. Repetition implies importance.
That doesn’t mean that the most repeated commands are necessarily the most important commands. We know from Jesus that the most important commandments are that we love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29–31). But most repeated certainly means something important. And if we’re paying careful attention, we’ll recognize that the most repeated commands are means of obeying the most important commandments.
That bears repeating because of how important it is: God’s most repeated commands are means of obeying God’s most important commandments. This is amazing. There is a direct connection between loving God supremely, loving others as ourselves, and our being authentically happy. We don’t sacrifice one for the other. When God commands us to love him with all we are, or to love others with the same care and concern and grace and compassion and patience with which we love ourselves, he is not commanding us to sacrifice real, lasting, true, satisfying happiness. He’s commanding us to pursue our real, lasting, true, satisfying happiness.
Is this true? Let’s examine four oft-repeated commands in Scripture and ask what God really wants from us.“Praise the Lord”
When God commands us to praise him, what does he want? We know he’s not after our empty lip service while our hearts wander off somewhere else (Isaiah 29:13). He’s commanding us to look at him, through what he’s revealed to us about himself, until we see some aspect of his glory that transcends the paltry or corrupt things clamoring for our attention right now — glory that produces an awe-filled joy we can’t help but express in praise.
Our delight-filled praise not only glorifies God and gives him pleasure, but also lovingly points others to the same glory we’re seeing and the same delight we’re feeling — because we always praise (to others) what delights us. God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.“Do Not Fear”
When God commands us to “not be afraid,” what does he want? He wants us to meditate on some promise he’s made us until we experience the paralyzing effects of fear melting away and our courage rising.
This bold, happy confidence in God is not only an expression of trusting love in him; it also makes us feel lovingly expansive and encouraging toward others because we’re filled with hope in God. We can’t help but want to comfort and encourage others with the comfort and courage we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.“Rejoice”
When God commands us to rejoice, what does he want? He wants us to remember that no matter what happens, nothing will separate us from his omnipotent love for us in Christ (Romans 8:38–39), that he will work all these things for our good (Romans 8:28), and that he will rescue us from every evil deed and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).
We express our love for God as we faithfully rest in his sovereign reign over all things — the sweet and the bitter — and we love others as we help them also faithfully rest in God’s sovereign reign too. God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.“Give Thanks”
When God commands us to give thanks, what does he want? Like John Piper says, God is not after the kind of thanks a six-year-old is forced to say to his grandma after getting black socks for Christmas. God wants us to look past the things that frustrate, anger, disappoint, discourage, sadden, and depress us, and to see his grace — his all-sufficient, abounding grace (2 Corinthians 9:8) — the grace flowing to us right now, whatever our circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
When we see his grace and trust his wise purposes, loving thankfulness rises toward him and pushes out our negative, sinful emotions and grumbling, replacing them with peace. And this gratitude-inspired peace lovingly overflows to everyone else we interact with, often helping them overcome their own temptations to grumble. God is commanding us to love him, love others, and be happy.Secret Code
Once we put these lenses on, we begin to see that this secret code is contained in all of God’s commands, not just the most repeated ones: faith-filled obedience leads us to joy. God only commands his people what will bring them ultimate happiness. That’s why, for those who discover the secret, “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). David discovered this secret and broke out in a love song to God’s commands:
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7–11)
The commands of our Lord are more to be desired than gold because they make us happier than gold. In keeping them there is a far greater reward than gold: loving, enjoying, admiring, praising, thanking, and rejoicing in God forever (Psalm 16:11).
That is why God has filled the Bible with repeated commands to praise him, to not fear, to rejoice always, and to give thanks always, and every other command that pertains to us. He wants us to be happy. “The God of hope [wants to] fill [us] with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit [we] may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). Today. Now. And forever.
A couple of years ago, social media revolted against the hashtag #blessed.
It often seemed to be employed to brag about expensive vacations or impressive accomplishments under the guise of humility. But home décor stores do not seem to have gotten the message. They have shelves stocked with all kinds of signs and accessories so we can declare to the world — or at least anyone who comes into our houses — that we are indeed “blessed.”
But what do we mean when we say that we are blessed? Is it an expression of gratitude for the things we have, the health we enjoy, or the people we love? Are these things really at the center of what it means to be blessed?The Source of Blessing
From the first chapter to the last, the Bible’s story is one of blessing — blessing pronounced, blessing promised, blessing anticipated, and blessing experienced. We begin to get a sense of what it really means to be blessed in Numbers 6:22–27:
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
These words were not given for Israel’s priests to use to ask God for his blessing, leaving them to wonder whether or not God would give it. Rather, God took the initiative to assure his people of his settled intention to bless them. He seemed to want to make it clear that he intended to be personally involved in their lives as the source of all the goodness they would enjoy.
So the first thing we learn from this blessing is that God is the source of every blessing in our lives. He blesses us by keeping us secure, extending his grace, and flooding our lives with his healing and wholeness. He is fully engaged, fully determined, and fully able to fill our lives with the security, grace, and peace we all long for.The Substance of Blessing
But he is more than the source of blessing; God is also the substance of blessing. Experiencing God’s blessing is not merely getting good things from God. The essence of blessing is getting more of God. It is looking up to see affection and approval radiating from his face. To be blessed is to be confident that God has not and will never ignore or abandon us.
Since more of God himself is the substance of blessing, whenever we ask him to bless us, we’re essentially inviting him to pervade all of the ordinary aspects of our lives. When we ask him to bless our plans, we’re inviting him into them, inviting him to even disrupt or change them, believing that his plans are always better than ours. In asking for his blessing we’re confessing that the outcome of our lives will not be the sum of our grand efforts or accomplishments. Instead, anything and everything good that emerges from our lives will be a result of his sovereign presence in it.Blessed Even at the Worst Times
If we really believe that God is the substance of blessing, we won’t confess that we’re blessed only in the circumstances that seem good. Instead, when times are hard, and even when the worst things we can imagine are happening to us, we’ll be able to say that we are blessed.
We’ll call ourselves blessed and mean it because we’re experiencing the presence of God with us and in us — in ways we were barely aware of when life seemed easy. Because we know the Lord is keeping us and being gracious to us, our sense of security and peace won’t be so tied to our circumstances. In our desperation for him during difficult times, we’ll find ourselves incredibly blessed by an increased sense of his companionship and comfort.The Reason God Can Bless Us
So how is it that God can be so good to us? On what basis can God bless us so generously?
You and I can anticipate being showered with God’s blessing only because Jesus experienced the full measure of God’s curse in our place. Christ was given what we deserve so that we might be given what Christ deserves. This is the too-good-to-be-trueness of the gospel.
We can be sure that the Lord will keep and protect us because Christ was not protected. We can revel in having the Lord’s face turned toward us only because he turned his face away from his own Son as he hung on the cross. We can be sure that the Lord will lift up his countenance upon us only because when he looks at us, he sees us robed in the righteousness of Christ. He is able to grant us his peace only because his anger was exhausted on another.
To be blessed is to be joined to Christ so securely that we have an ever-increasing sense that we are being kept by and for God. Because we are recipients of lavish grace, we can be honest with God and other people about our sin. Because the Lord is giving us peace, we can face the future confident that there is therefore now no condemnation for us because we are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). We can shout it for the world to hear, post it for the social media world to read, and nail it to every wall in our home: we are truly, deeply, eternally blessed in Christ.
You give glory to whatever captures your heart most. And whatever makes you most happy reveals what really has your heart.
Why do we at Desiring God put such an emphasis on the affections? The very name Desiring God foregrounds desire. The vision of life that we champion is called Christian Hedonism, which connotes a life devoted to maximizing pleasure.
Yes, pleasure — the kind that lasts forevermore at God’s right hand (Psalm 16:11). Indeed, pleasures that reach their fullness when overflowing in love for people, even if it costs us our lives (2 Corinthians 8:2).
Soul satisfaction in God is what we emphasize. “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). That’s not throat thirst, but soul thirst. The heart of our hedonism is summed up in the watchword: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” That raises the stakes pretty high — all the way up to God’s glory. I suppose you could say that’s our answer. We emphasize the affections because so much hangs on them.
But let’s keep going. Why else?Scripture Resonates with Affections
One answer is that we are Bible people. We try to align our minds and hearts with the priorities of Scripture.
What we find there is that we are told not to covet, that is, not to desire things in ways we shouldn’t (Exodus 20:17). We are to be content (Hebrews 13:5); to enjoy freedom from anxiety (Matthew 6:25); not to fear those who kill the body (Luke 12:4); but to be full of hope in God (Psalm 42:5; 1 Peter 1:13) and inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8) that overflows with thankfulness (Colossians 3:15) and zeal (Romans 12:11) and brotherly affection (1 Peter 1:22), from hearts that are tender (1 Peter 3:8) and lowly (Philippians 2:3) and contrite (Psalm 51:17), with earnest desire for God’s word (1 Peter 2:2), and sorrowful empathy with (Romans 12:15) and sympathy for (1 Peter 3:8) those who suffer.
In other words, what we find in the Bible is a pervasive summons for our affections to match the reality of God and his salvation.Augustine
Another reason we emphasize the affections is that some of the greatest minds in history have done the same. If the only people who emphasized the affections were weak-minded, emotional people, we would probably be hesitant to line up. What we find is just the opposite. I’ll mention three and focus on one.
Augustine is considered by many the most influential theologian in the history of the church. His was an extraordinary mind. His life, as it unfolds in his Confessions, is a drawn-out experience of finally being conquered by sovereign joy.
The pursuit of joy pervades his writings. Enjoying God was his lifelong quest. It was the true meaning of human life for him. So, he prayed, “I began to search for a means of gaining the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I could not find this means until I embraced the mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ.”Jonathan Edwards
Then, there is Jonathan Edwards. Alistair McGrath calls him “America’s greatest theologian.” It’s no secret that Edwards’s understanding of Trinitarian joy has shaped how we think at Desiring God.
His book, The Religious Affections, argues for this thesis: “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” And we do not hide that our crucial slogan at Desiring God — “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” — is a rhyming modification of Edwards’s own words, “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”The “Unrivaled” John Owen
But sixty years before Jonathan Edwards wrote the Religious Affections, another mind, without the same philosophical subtlety, but with equal or greater grasp of the workings of the human heart, was overflowing with unsurpassed insight — the mind of John Owen. He died in 1683, but even today, 334 years later, J.I. Packer would still say, “For solidity, profundity, massiveness, and majesty in exhibiting from Scripture God’s ways with sinful mankind there is no one to touch him.”
Roger Nicole said Owen was the greatest theologian to write in the English language, “even greater than Jonathan Edwards.” To some, he was “the Calvin of England.” To others, he was “the Atlas and Patriarch of Independency.” And for our purposes here, the assessment of Charles Bridges stands out: “For a detailed and wise treatment of the diversified exercises of the Christian’s heart, he stands probably unrivaled” (The Christian Ministry, 41).
When I need help to bring my mind and heart into a wakened, serious, sensitivity to divine reality, I regularly turn to John Owen. Presently, I am reading through his book On the Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded on my iPad. This book is an extended exposition and application of Romans 8:6: “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Let me offer you some tastes of the Owen-feast that may help answer the question why we put so much emphasis on the affections.What Are Spiritual Affections?
First, consider his definition of the “substance of our being spiritually minded.”
Spiritual affections, whereby the soul adheres unto spiritual things, taking in such a savor and relish of them as [that] wherein it finds rest and satisfaction, is the peculiar spring and substance of our being spiritually minded. (emphasis added)
What is the spring and essence of the “spiritual mind” — the mind shaped by the Holy Spirit? Owen’s answer: Having a “spiritual mind” means having “spiritual affections” that embrace God.Feast Your Soul on Owen’s Banquet
If that is what the “spiritual affections” are, what does Owen say about them to show how important they are?
The great contest of heaven and earth is about the affections of the poor worm which we call man. . . . That the holy God should as it were engage in the contest and strive for the affections of man, is an effect of infinite condescension and grace. This he doth expressly: “My son,” saith he, “give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23:26).
God will accept of nothing from us without [spiritual affections]; the most costly sacrifice will not be accepted if it be without a heart.
All . . . the designs of God’s effectual grace, are suited unto and prepared for this end, namely, to recover the affections of man unto himself.
On the other side, all the artifices of the world, all the paint it puts on its face, all the great promises it makes, all the false appearances and attires it clothes itself withal by the help of Satan, have no other end but to draw and keep the affections of men unto itself.
If the world be preferred before God [in this contest] for our affections, we shall justly perish with the world unto eternity.
In what we do unto or for others, whatsoever is good, valuable, or praiseworthy in it, proceeds from the affection wherewith we do it. To do anything for others without an animating affection, is but a contempt of them; for we judge them really unworthy that we should do anything for them.
Whatsoever we do in the service of God, whatever duty we perform on his command, whatever we undergo or suffer for his name’s sake, if it proceed not from the cleaving of our souls unto him by our affections, it is despised by him; he owns us not.
Spiritual affections are the seat of all sincerity, which is the jewel of divine and human conversation, the life and soul of everything that is good and praiseworthy. Whatever men pretend, as their affections are, so are they.
Hypocrisy is a deceitful interposition of the mind, on various reasons and pretenses, between men’s affections and their profession, whereby a man appears to be what he is not.
Affections are in the soul as the helm in the ship; if it be laid hold on by a skillful hand, he turneth the whole vessel which way he pleaseth.
Perhaps that suffices to give you a flavor from Owen and Edwards and Augustine and (their common source) the Bible for why we at Desiring God put so much emphasis on the affections. We don’t believe becoming a Christian is first a human decision, but first a divine miracle. The Christian life is not, most deeply, new ideas and decisions, but new seeing and savoring — new values and desires. We are Desiring God.
If nothing happens outside of God’s control, then why is this world filled with events that clearly oppose God’s revealed will?
I thought I was a Christian for years.
I swore I had a relationship with God.
I believed I could die at any moment and be welcomed into heaven.
I wasn’t. I didn’t. I wouldn’t.
I did not have a category for someone thinking they were a follower of Christ and not actually being one. I assumed that if I had any desire to be a Christian, God should welcome me with shouts of joy. I had never read that there would be people on judgment day who would emphatically greet Jesus, calling him “Lord, Lord,” and yet be rejected by him (Matthew 7:21–23). No one ever told me that people could do a lot of mighty works for God and yet still be lost.
I convinced myself that I was safe from the wrath of God. No one told me that the lukewarm “Christian” gets spit out of God’s mouth (Revelation 3:16). No one informed me that if God was not first in my heart, I was either in urgent need of repentance, or I was lost. In the words of Francis Chan, I was lukewarm and lovin’ it.Lukewarm and Lovin’ It
I didn’t cuss much. I wasn’t sleeping around. I went to church most Sundays. I must be a Christian.
I said that Jesus died for my sins. I sang the lyrics on the screen. I prayed before meals. I gave God props for my athletic achievements. I must be a Christian.
Sure, God wasn’t my all in all. Sure, I never read his word. Sure, I didn’t pray very much. Sure, I secretly loved sin. Sure, holiness seemed dreadfully boring. Sure, I rarely owned him in public or spent time with him in private. But he understood. I was only human after all. No one is perfect.
If God had not intervened, I would have awoken from my delusion to a lake of fire. I imagined I feasted at the table of grace, drank from the chalice of eternal life, but I was eating garbage and drinking sewer water. I was dreaming, like those described in Isaiah,
As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating, and awakes with his hunger not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking, and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched. (Isaiah 29:8)
I would have been the most miserable creature in all of perdition.
And I kept myself in my delusion, muting my conscience and convincing myself that I was right with God by this simple strategy: I refused to read God’s book and measured myself by the people around me.How to Stay Lukewarm
Comparing my faith with others around me (including non-Christians) was the easiest way, as C.S. Lewis says, to travel down the gentle slope into hell.The Downward Glance
I looked down on those who were “lesser” Christians to confirm my complacency. My assurance of salvation largely came from the fact that I was outwardly better than many of the other goats who claimed to be sheep.
I prayed like the Pharisee: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, fornicators, liars, adulterers — I wouldn’t know I was a Christian without them.
When a duck compares himself with other ducks, he crowns himself a swan.The Upward Glance
When I would come across real believers, I would feel moments of deep conviction. But to stay lukewarm, I concluded that these were simply Christian all-stars.
Instead of having them in the “living” category while I was in the “dead” category, I reasoned that they were the Avengers. They were A+ Christians, I was the C/C- Christian — but both were passing. Just because I wasn’t on the Christian all-conference team didn’t mean I wasn’t on the team. Right?
And once I established the superhero Christian category, I would search for reasons to put believers who made me uncomfortable into it. Oh, he wants to be a pastor! Oh, they were missionaries for several years. Oh, they grew up in a Christian home all their lives. Oh, they just have a personality that gets excited about everything. That explains it.
I gladly resigned myself to being a spiritual hobbit — they too were included in the Fellowship afterall.Where I Didn’t Glance: the Bible
When I was lukewarm, God’s book was collecting dust in my room, unopened.
Then God led me to his word and saved me. God met a miserable, 6’5” hobbit in his cold, dank, dorm room, making him alive through his Spirit and his word. The lukewarm churchianity was consumed by living faith in the consuming God of the Bible.
There I read that you must be born again to enter the kingdom (John 3:3). There I read that loving Jesus above all others — father, mother, son, daughter, spouse — wasn’t just for super Christians but for all who would follow Jesus (Matthew 10:37–39). There I read that God was disgusted with me for drawing near with my mouth before meals and on Sunday morning, while my heart remained far from him (Isaiah 29:13–14). There I read that I could search the Scriptures in a thousand Bible studies and yet refuse to truly go to Jesus and have life (John 5:39–40).
There I read that I couldn’t be good enough to put God in my debt (Luke 17:10). That in no way could I please him while I lived in the flesh (Romans 8:8). There I read that I was rightfully cursed for not loving Jesus (1 Corinthians 16:22) and that the punishment would be everlasting torment (Revelation 14:11).
There I read that God wasn’t a socially awkward kid in the lunchroom desperate for anyone to sit with him. There I read that his very name is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16) to whom every single knee in creation will bow (Philippians 2:10). There I read that he did not need me (Acts 17:25); that if I refused to worship him, rocks would (Luke 19:40). There I read that I was created for his glory, not he for mine (Isaiah 43:7).
There I read that if I was lackadaisical about treasuring Christ, about repenting of sin, and refused to surrender in joyful submission, he would spit me out of his mouth (Revelation 3:15–16).Great News for the Lukewarm
But there I also read that while we were worse than lukewarm, the King of kings died for us (Romans 5:8). That although my sin and apathy had earned me death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23). There I also read that Jesus didn’t come for those who are well, but his compassion and grace are for those who are sick in their sin (Luke 5:31).
There I also read that if I was thirsty, if I had no money, God invited me to come and be satisfied in him (Isaiah 55:1). There I also read that if I was tired of laboring for that which left me empty and turned to him, he would feed me with rich food, give me life, and make an everlasting covenant with me through his Son (Isaiah 55:2–3).
There I also read that the Lord is near to anyone who would return to him for pardon. That he offers to the most vile — and lukewarm — sinner absolute pardon and pleasure beyond what he could dare to hope (Isaiah 55:6–9). There I read that this invitation was purchased at the cost of the Son of God (Isaiah 53:1–12).
If you are lukewarm and reading this, there is great news for you: There is still time. Repent. Believe. Rejoice. Live.
Prolonged suffering is like sweltering heat.
For my family, the drought began in a dark ultrasound room that foreshadowed the grief to come. At first, the news was vague — there might be some congenital birth defects. But over the next eleven weeks, foreboding fears materialized and our dreams withered and died.
Our twin sons were born by emergency C-section nine weeks premature, their joints contracted, their muscles motionless. The culprit was a single mutation in a solitary gene.
Isaac and Caleb spent the first four months of their fragile lives in the NICU, precariously sustained by a web of ventilator tubes, IVs, feeding tubes, and probes. Eventually we took our babies home to our own mini-ICU, where 24-7 care for severely disabled children became our new normal.
Three years later Isaac died. We never expected the boys to live long, yet his death still blindsided me. Caleb has now outlived his brother by two and a half years, but we wonder every day if this one will be his last.
Whether it comes as chronic illness, disability, death, or any of a million other forms, suffering is like scorching heat to the soul. It threatens to turn once-fruitful faith into a wilted husk. But in my own suffering, God’s word has taught me that the heat of hardship can also drive me deeper into the all-sufficient, refreshing grace of God.Hope for Our Parched Souls
Jeremiah was no stranger to suffering. He endured reproach and hostility. His own hometown conspired to murder him (Jeremiah 11:18–23). He was acquainted with loneliness. Political turmoil and moral decay were the norm in his day. He lived through the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah has been called the Weeping Prophet because of his numerous laments. In one lament he asked this haunting question: “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” (Jeremiah 15:18). God graciously replied to that mournful query in Jeremiah 17:5–8:
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
In the months after our sons were born, these words became an oasis of hope to my parched soul. They have soothed my fears, alleviated my anxiety, and sustained my faith by teaching me to trust the Lord in the years of drought.Where Have the Rains Gone?
The first thing God does in this text is reframe my interpretation of heat and drought. When we suffer, it’s tempting to think hard thoughts about God, to conclude that he has abandoned us, or to assume he is punishing us. But these words comfort me in my suffering by assuring me that heat is a normal part of life in a fallen world.
Even when it seems the rain of God’s pleasant blessings has stopped, God has not abandoned us. In fact, he graciously intends to use seasons of suffering to deepen our experience of his sufficiency and to display his glory.
I’ve learned that when the heat comes, I will thirst; and when I thirst, I will trust someone. Whatever I rely on for strength, security, and satisfaction, that is what I trust. It’s inescapable: I will either make flesh my strength, or God will be my trust.
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man,” but “blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5, 7)
This is pivotal. The difference between the blessing and the curse, the fruitfulness and the barrenness, Eden and exile, hinges on the object of our trust, not the difficulty of our circumstances. Whether we languish or thrive when the heat comes depends on where we look for help. Tragedies, trials, and trauma don’t cause fruitlessness; trusting in anything other than God to satisfy us does.
But God is glorified in our suffering when we bear fruit through the heat by relying on him as our all-satisfying source of strength.Broken Cisterns Are Tempting
I know how easy it is to turn to Netflix to get me through days in the hospital or to imagine that money would solve my problems. I also know how easy it is to use suffering as an excuse for spiritual apathy. I’m praying less because life is really hard right now. Or, I’ll watch TV because I don’t have the energy to read God’s word.
But Jeremiah 17 exposes my heart. It’s not that I’m ever too exhausted to rely on something for help. It’s that I choose broken cisterns instead of the fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13).
God is not “a deceitful brook,” as Jeremiah feared. He is a never-failing stream through the most stifling heat. No drought can diminish the fruitfulness of the one who trusts in the Lord, because God himself is an inexhaustible reservoir of soul-satisfying water.
This is what Jesus promised in John 4:14: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus promised, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).Where I Am Sinking My Roots
Through the heat of caring for disabled sons and the drought of Isaac’s death, I’ve found those promises to be true. Now as I anticipate the torrid drought that Caleb’s death will bring, I will continue to sink my roots into that river through ongoing repentance and faith.
First, I forsake all shallow confidence in the flesh and turn away from trusting in myself, in others, or in created things for my security and joy. And when the heat comes, I confess to the Lord every sinful response to suffering: wallowing in self-pity, grumbling to God, or envying those who have the life I wish I had.
Then in faith, I send out my roots by the stream (Jeremiah 17:8), fixing my thoughts and desires on all that God promises to be and do for me in Jesus. Treasuring him through the drought sustains obedience and testifies to the world that Jesus himself is better than every other gift he gives.
If you make much of yourself, you distract others from what matters most. But when God makes much of himself, he gives us what we need most.
How important to you is people’s approval? How important to you is faithfully obeying God? Sometimes we’re forced to sacrifice one in order to have or do the other.
The last time you faced this choice, which did you choose? Was your choice an anomaly, or did it follow a pattern of previous choices?
A good reputation is a very good thing — better than silver or gold, the Bible says (Proverbs 22:1). The apostles required people’s approval of the seven men chosen to ensure Hellenistic widows stopped being neglected (Acts 6:3). They required a good reputation of elders, both inside and outside the church (1 Timothy 3:2, 7), as well as of widows supported by the church (1 Timothy 5:9–10). Cornelius (Acts 10:22), Timothy (Acts 16:1–2), and Ananias of Damascus (Acts 22:12) are documented, in Scripture, as men who had good reputations.
We should want to be thought well of by others because of our integrity and the purity of our conduct. But it’s evil to want to be thought well of by others so much that, when push comes to shove, we compromise the integrity and purity of our conduct to get it.
And herein lies our significant battle: one we must wage against our pride. In order to follow Jesus faithfully, we must repeatedly die to our desires for people’s approval in order to be truthful and obey God.When Good Is Very Bad
Consider this: the same God who commends a good reputation, also made this statement:
“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
What exactly did Jesus mean? He meant what the Spirit said through the prophet Jeremiah:
“From the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13–14)
In Jeremiah’s day — like in ours — prophets were saying false things in order to win the approval of people, especially the social and financial gatekeepers. Their goal was to obtain “unjust gain” — financial and likely a wide range of other benefits. Anything we value as a benefit we count as gain (Philippians 3:4–8).
What makes a good reputation a very bad thing? When a good reputation is a result of manipulating others for selfish ends. That’s what made the false prophets false.
Jesus’s point was this: anytime we sacrifice truth for the sake of our reputation, anytime we sacrifice obedience to God for the sake of others’ approval, we’re doing it for unjust gain — to obtain some benefit through dishonesty. And it is a spiritually dangerous transaction.
Jesus knows we face this temptation regularly. Our sinful pride is “greedy for dishonest gain” of all kinds (1 Timothy 3:8), and fearful to lose what gain we have. That’s why he warns us that if everyone speaks well of us, something is very likely wrong. We may not be following Jesus faithfully. We may be valuing the benefits we gain by pleasing people more than the benefits Jesus promises us.When Bad Is Very Good
To help us test what we really value, Jesus juxtaposes his woe on bad good reputations with his blessing on good bad reputations:
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22–23)
Happy are we when our name is mud for Jesus’s sake. That’s a strange sort of happy. Exactly. It’s an otherworldly happy. It values the promise of heavenly reward more than the benefits we gain by pleasing the people who don’t love Jesus.
What makes a bad reputation a very good thing? When a bad reputation is a result of faithfulness to the truth and faithful obedience out of love for Christ. That’s what made the true prophets true.
Loving the promise of gaining the reward of God more than people’s approval has been the mark of God’s people in all of history. It is the testimony of nearly everyone listed in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. They were people who sought a better country than exists on earth (Hebrews 11:16), who chose “to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25), and who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of [the world]” (Hebrews 11:26).Test Yourself
The woe and the blessing are tests. This is one test: Are we happy, even when our reputation is trashed and our social and perhaps financial capital is devalued, because we choose the truth (John 14:6) and demonstrate our love for him by obeying him (John 14:15)?
This is another test: Do we ever experience this?
How we answer these questions reveals to some extent what we treasure. And if our answers are not what we wish they were — what we know Jesus wants for us — they can become, if we respond in faith, not condemnations but invitations. There are many more and deeper joys to be had than the paltry, hollow unjust gain we receive from cultivating bad good reputations. Jesus wants to give us, and is inviting us to receive, the eternal blessing of a good bad reputation. With all his heart he wants to say to us, “Rejoice and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven!” (Luke 6:23).
Most of us spend at least forty hours a week at work. So how do we leverage our time there to bring honor and praise to God?
Walking in the light is a matter of life and death for the Christian. If we don’t walk in the light now, we won’t later.
Grow in grace. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better three-word caption for the Christian life. It stems from a single text at the end of Peter’s second letter:
Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17–18)
Growing in grace has a context, and it’s not neutral. We are not given the option either to grow or stay the same, but to grow or be carried away. Grow or lose your stability. Grow in Christ or lose him altogether.Make It (More) Personal
The aggressive sway of this sin-sick world, and the power of the Spirit within us, affords Christians no place for standing still. We’re either growing or shriveling. Either being carried forward by grace or carried away from the truth.
True stability in the Christian life comes not from planting two feet and holding fast, but from putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward, one grace-empowered step at a time. A stable Christian is a growing Christian.
And such growth in grace is always personal: “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” This is not the knowledge of books and facts, but knowing a person. Christian stability and maturity happen not merely by learning doctrines, but by knowing a real person in and through doctrines — growing into Christ (Ephesians 4:15–16) and holding fast to him (Colossians 2:19).
But how do we grow into Christ by grace?Pure Spiritual Milk
When we pay close attention to the context of 2 Peter 3:18, and turn to the one other place where Peter talks explicitly about growth, we glean one clear and essential principle for what it means to grow in grace:
Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1–3)
We pick up a how of this growth in grace, or a main ingredient. Peter calls it “the pure spiritual milk.” What our Bibles have as chapter 2 flows immediately from the end of chapter 1, which makes the reference of “pure spiritual milk” plain: “the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). But what does Peter mean by “the living and abiding word”?God’s Word in the Gospel
First, just two verses later, Peter says, “This word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). First and foremost, “the pure spiritual milk” by which we grow in grace is what we know as “the gospel” — the message of God’s goodness toward us in Christ. Despite our sin and endless failings, God has shown us love, and made a way for us to be right with him, through the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of his own Son. In Jesus, God is fully and finally for us.
We grow in grace not by moving on from this good news that was preached to us, but by going deeper and deeper into that astonishing message. Christians mature not by moving on from the gospel into “deeper truths,” but by sending our roots deeper and deeper into the simple and unfathomable gospel of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness toward us.
But how will we, in grace, “grow up into salvation” by the gospel? Just parroting to ourselves a few simple lines of gospel summary over and over each day will not carry a soul in the long run. Canned, stale expressions of God’s goodness to us in Christ won’t feed and energize us for very long. Saying the same old truths, in the same old ways, will betray their richness and beauty. How will this gospel stay fresh to our souls? The second side of Peter’s “living and abiding word.”God’s Word in the Apostles and Prophets
Peter knows that simply preaching the gospel to ourselves, with no fresh inputs, will soon run its course. His “pure spiritual milk” invites us into a rich theology of God’s word and grace toward us, which brings us back to the end of his second letter. What kind of “word” is in view when Peter makes his “grow in grace” statement in 2 Peter 3:18? The words of God in Scripture.
Peter has just mentioned Paul’s letters, “which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15–16). The unstable twist the Scriptures. But those who are stable and mature, growing in grace, do not twist the Scriptures, but take them as what they are — the very words of God — and feed their souls on them. They receive God’s words as grace from God, not as burdensome, and find them life-giving, not life-depleting. Many “lovers of grace” tragically neglect God’s primary means of grace — his God — in the name of “grace.” In doing so, they forfeit and diminish the very grace they claim to love and live by.
Peter gives us his summary of God’s “word,” old and new: “Remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). Prophets and apostles. Old Testament and New. God means for us to grow in grace by rehearsing what God himself promised through his prophets and now has fulfilled in his crucified and risen Son and revealed through his appointed spokesmen, the apostles.
God gave us a sizable Book full of predictions and fulfillments, full of promises and directives, full of grace and truth, that we might grow in grace.Grace of Words, Words of Grace
The apostle Peter, and the living Christ through him, hasn’t left us without direction for how to “grow in grace.” God has given us his own word — in the gospel of his Son and in the Scriptures of his Book — all to be received together in the community of his church (1 Peter 2:5, 9–10; Ephesians 2:19–22). Yes, indeed, in Christ you will grow. You must. The Christian life never stands still. And God hasn’t left us without an abundance of grace for precisely that — in his word.
No matter how prone we may be to pit the grace of God and the word of God against each other, they always go together. Hearing the voice of our God in his word is never at odds with living by his grace. And true grace never shuts the mouth of God or stops our ears to his words. What priceless grace that God speaks to us and reveals himself, his Son, and his will for us. Living in light of his grace is never at odds with hearing him speak in his word.
We will experience no lasting and genuine growth in the faith without the main ingredient of God’s living and abiding word.
Aim to be humble rather than defensive when it comes to criticism. Only then will we be able to listen to their words and change if we’re wrong.
God must love whatever is most valuable in the universe — otherwise, he’d be an idolater.
“I’ve come to see that part of my calling here is simply to be a person of hope.”
Our car bounced down a dirt road in a small Middle Eastern town, seven of us packed into a five-seat sedan. A dim moonlight lit the blues and oranges of ramshackle gates guarding small properties.
The town sits on the northern edge of a “developing” country. But intermittent terrorist attacks and a limping economy make “disintegrating” seem like a more apt word at times. When locals meet a Western expat like the one driving our car, their surprise often breaks into a question.
“Why are you here?” they ask. “This country will never be fixed.”Broken Hope
This country will never be fixed. You don’t need to live in a broken country to know something of the same hopelessness — the desolating sense that some aspect of your life can never be fixed.
For many of us, pervasive, day in and day out brokenness has turned our youthful boast that “nothing is impossible with God” into a weary “nothing is ever going to change.” You might not voice it out loud, but you’ve come to expect that God will not answer prayer, much less “rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1), and that brokenness will dominate your life’s headlines until your obituary takes its place.
It might be a broken country, where terrorists’ bombs explode every attempt at systemic development. Or a broken marriage, where mistrust has evicted tenderness from the home. Or a broken ministry, where the word seems to land only on the path with the birds. Or perhaps just a broken soul, where darkness has extinguished the last shreds of light.
In the wreckage of that kind of brokenness, we feel entirely justified as we adopt a hopeless view of our life. We might even call our hopelessness realism.Despair Banished
Scripture has its share of such “realists” — cynical characters who run life through the grid of despair. The Bible has its Sarahs who laugh at God’s promise (Genesis 18:12), its Elijahs who have eyes to see only God’s enemies (1 Kings 19:14), and its Thomases who resign themselves to death (John 11:16).
But more properly, the people of God are a people of hope. They’re the sort who lock eyes with our world’s fundamental brokenness, size it up from head to toe, and still step into the ring.
- Abraham looks at his barren wife and “in hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations” (Romans 4:18).
- Ruth turns her eyes from a dead husband to a new country, and tells Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16).
- Habakkuk sees the Babylonian hordes coming to destroy his people, and still he sings, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18).
- Micah collapses under the weight of his own sin, and yet he boasts, “When I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8).
Each one of these saints knew what it was to stand neck-deep in brokenness. They felt the tension between God’s promises and their seemingly hopeless circumstances. And yet they still chose to hope that God could give “life to the dead and [call] into existence the things that do not exist” (Romans 4:17). By faith, they banished despair as they grasped onto “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
In other words, they were people who saw reality as it really is.Heart of Reality
Each of the stories shows us that, when we welcome hopelessness and cynicism in the name of “reality,” we are not being realistic enough.
If you peel back the layers to get at the heart of reality, you won’t find a black hole of brokenness; you’ll find “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13). You’ll find the God who gives children to barren women (Genesis 21:1–2), the God who welcomes young widows (Ruth 2:20), the God who fills disillusioned prophets with joy (Habakkuk 3:18), the God who pleads the cause of his sinful people (Micah 7:9). And if you keep on looking, you’ll find the God who entered the very dungeon of hopelessness in Jesus Christ, and three days later shattered the door.
This world is not a Shakespearean tragedy, where fate wields his merciless scythe and leaves the stage full of dead bodies at the curtain’s close. No, this world is more like a comedy — not because it’s so full of laughs, but because it’s headed for a happy ending: a marriage and enough food to go around for eternity.
Christian hope, then, is not the kind that blindfolds itself to reality. It’s the kind that looks at a newly sealed tomb and says, “This story’s not over.”People of Hope
Of course, the hope that sits at the heart of reality does not guarantee that all of the brokenness we feel will heal quickly — or even at all in this life. Your country might take decades to develop, or it might disintegrate further. Your marriage might take years to thaw, or the cold might settle in deeper. Your ministry might grow incrementally, or it might wither and die. Your soul might brighten by imperceptible degrees, or the darkness might linger until the end.
But the hope at the heart of reality does guarantee something: change is not only possible, but surely coming. Jesus’s empty tomb stands as a solid, immovable witness that brokenness is beaten. With the God of hope running the world, the risen Christ at his right hand, and their mighty Spirit living inside you, no brokenness can stand forever. One day, our hope will reach its fulfillment in the coming of the Son and the dawning of eternity, and he will speak the final word that exiles brokenness from the earth. No more splintered countries, no more icy marriages, no more floundering ministries, no more depressed saints.
And when we reach for that hope with the fingers of faith, we will live in today’s brokenness differently. We will straighten our backs, lift our chins, square our shoulders, and remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58) — even in this world’s most hopeless circumstances. Our default response to brokenness will not be “nothing is ever going to change,” but instead “nothing is impossible with God.”
We may still be a sorrowful people — burdened, broken, and beaten up — but we will not be a cynical people. We are a people of hope.
Aim to be humble rather than defensive when it comes to criticism. Only then will we be able to listen to their words and change if we’re wrong.
Fake Christians love darkness because it hides the sin that they love more than God.
Without God’s word, we cannot assess the gift of brotherhood as highly as we ought.
When I was asked to speak at a gathering of Bethlehem Baptist Church celebrating one hundred years of ministry between four pastors and their wives, I turned to Psalm 133. Two couples have served more than thirty years each, and the other two have served twenty each, for a total of one hundred years of fruitful labor. Their service is a priceless gift, and it is good for us to reflect, every once in a while, on unity and brotherhood in ministry.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1–3)
So, consider three glimpses of the priceless gift of the unity among these four pastors, who, of course, could not have done what they did without their wives.1. Unity is good and pleasant.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” It is good — it is what it ought to be. It is pleasant — it is what we want it to be. It is what God requires. And it is what we desire. It is their duty to be unified. And it is our delight that they are unified.
Not everything that God says is good is also pleasant. There are many things in life and in ministry that are good and right to do but that just are not pleasant to do. Unity among pastors is not one of those. It is a special kind of gift to a church. It is morally right, and a cause of great rejoicing.
Nothing satisfies the soul of a Spirit-filled church like the wonderful coming together of what ought to be and what we want to be in pastoral unity.
The unity of these pastors has been what it ought to be theologically — fully biblical; what it ought to be spiritually — going hard after all the fullness of God; what it ought to be financially — above reproach; what it ought to be sexually — unimpeachable faithfulness to their wives, and their wives to them. This is a good unity.
And it has been pleasant to us. Are not these four shepherds easy to like, easy to enjoy being around? Is it not pleasant that these shepherds are so easy to laugh with and cry with? Have they not pointed us to God and put us at ease a hundred times? And is it not pleasantly so that in their presence you do not feel that they are looking for your flaws, but ready to cover a multitude of sins?
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in gospel unity!”2. Unity is precious.
“It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” To be sure, this oil is precious. We have already seen: it is good and it is pleasant. That’s not the emphasis. What is? It’s on the head, then on the beard — not just any beard but the beard of the high priest, and then dripping off the beard onto the collar of his robe. What’s the point? This is excessive.
The unity — the good, pleasant unity — the biblical, theological, spiritual, ministerial oneness of the shepherds of the church — is an excessive gift to the church. It is more than we deserve. Remember that every day that goes by when these brothers are living and ministering in deep and joyful camaraderie, we are receiving a gift way beyond what we deserve.
If the oil is wonderfully fragrant, and if it is soothing to the sun-parched skin, and if it is full of symbolism of divine anointing, the point here is that this unity is all of that excessively. If we experience this from our pastors, it is more — excessively more — than we deserve. You should be affected by this when you shake their hands.3. Unity is life-giving.
“It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”
Follow me carefully. Mount Hermon was the highest mountain in Israel. Its dew and gentle rains kept the hills alive with moisture. One hundred and twenty miles to the south is little Mount Zion, Jerusalem, the city of David, the holy place where people met God in his tabernacle. Unity among brothers is like the life-giving dew of Hermon settling on Zion. Why is it like that?
The last two lines of the psalm begin with “for.” So here comes the basis of this comparison. The unity of brothers is like the life-giving dew of Hermon settling on the mountains of Zion “because there [in Zion] the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” Picturing unity as life from on high, settling on the place where people meet God, is a perfect picture because there — just there — God gives eternal life.
God-centered, Messiah-exalting, Scripture-saturated, gospel-shaped unity among brothers is the presence of divine life — eternal life — in our churches. Christ commanded life at the grave of Lazarus. And there was life. God commanded life, and these pastors lived and became one in that eternal life — all for our good and pleasant and excessive blessing.Deep in the Mind of Christ
It almost goes without saying that unity among brothers and sisters does not mean having the same tastes and preferences on a hundred issues. For example, when Paul says in Philippians 2:2 that we should be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind,” he is not referring to favorite music, favorite food, favorite sports, favorite clothes, favorite authors, and favorite charity.
The “mind,” “love,” and “accord” that are supposed to be the same are described in verses 3–8. They are the mind-set of counting others more significant than yourself, and looking out for the interests of others, and reflecting the mind of Christ in his self-emptying servanthood. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who . . . emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant . . . ” (Philippians 2:5–7).
The precious, pleasant, excessive blessing of unity on a church staff is more than this. But not less. And this humble, servant mind-set is the heart-key that unlocks the door of reconciliation over and over again, and makes a hundred years of sweet partnership possible. May God grant every church to sink its roots deep in the mind of Christ that moved him from the highest place to the lowest for the sake of love.
Years ago, I was asked, “If you could parent your daughters all over again, what would you do differently?” Mistakes and failures flooded my mind, but in a moment I had my answer.
I wish I had trusted God more.
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 37:3: “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” In my day-to-day mothering, however, I sometimes got this verse backward. I put the “doing good” in front of the “trusting God.”
It’s not that I didn’t trust God ultimately. But at times, doing good would creep up to the front, and trusting God would get shoved to the back. I was focused on what I was doing (or not doing) for my children, and only vaguely aware of what God was doing in my children’s lives. Trusting God became something of an afterthought, and I would mother my children as if it was all up to me.Guilt Dogged Me
When I put doing good before trusting God, guilt dogged my mothering. If my toddler threw a tantrum, I thought, My discipline is not consistent enough. If my teenager was spiritually lethargic, I believed, My discipleship is not compelling enough. If my child fell behind, made a mistake, or sinned in any way, I berated myself, You’re not helping them enough.
I lay awake at nights, rehearsing my deficiencies, revising my plans to be a better mom tomorrow. I obsessed over my failures and overlooked God’s faithfulness. When I put doing good first, nothing good I did was ever good enough.Fear Stalked Me
When I put doing good before trusting God, fear stalked my mothering. I worried that my efforts would result in failure. I worried that my limitations would hold them back. I worried that my sins would scar them for life. I worried that my hopes and desires for my children would end in bitter disappointment.
When my doing good was propelled by fear, I would panic if my teenagers broke the rules, and then I would persist in admonishing them if they didn’t show signs of repentance. I tried to be the Holy Spirit to my kids, and we all know how well that works out.What’s a Weary Mom to Do?
“Laden with guilt and full of fears, I fly to Thee, my Lord.” Isaac Watts
What’s a weary, guilt-dogged, fear-stalked mom to do? We must do what Isaac Watts did: fly to God. We must trust God in our doing good. Trusting God doesn’t nullify doing good; rather, it empowers every good work. Trusting God douses our fears and turns our self-effort on its head. Trusting God infuses our doing good with peace, joy, and energizing hope. In fact, trusting God and doing good go hand in hand. We can’t have one without the other. Only when we trust God can we do our children any good.
We must trust God that even though we are far from perfect, we are the perfect mother for our children. We must trust God that even though our doing good falls short, he is doing far more good than we can possibly imagine (Ephesians 3:20). We must trust God that he hears the cry of the needy, that he exalts the humble, and that he rewards faithfulness (Psalm 34:17; James 4:10; Matthew 25:21). We must trust God that our feeble efforts to do good are only fruitful because he is actively, aggressively doing good to us (Psalm 23:6).What I Tell My Daughters Today
So, when my daughters lament their mothering failures and fears, “I’m not consistent enough in disciplining my toddler,” or “What if I’m not getting through to my teenager?” I tell them, “How like your mother you are! I too fell short and fretted at times, but the good thing for both of us is that our gracious God is always, only, ever doing good for us. So, trust him and continue to do good.”
One of the benefits of getting older is that, in hindsight, I can see that God did what I could never have done. And I believe that God is going to continue to do above and beyond what I could possibly do. I look at my four adult children and see that they are fruitful in ways far beyond what I could have hoped. They excel in endeavors above anything I could ever have taught them. That doesn’t mean there weren’t setbacks and detours along the way. But this much I know: God is trustworthy.
Eighteen years after I was first asked the question, “What would you do differently?” my answer is still the same, but I would add one thing: I wish I had trusted God more because he is trustworthy. And I would declare it more confidently than ever because I am more sure than ever that God is faithful. And so I say to you, dear mothers, laden with guilt and fear, fly to him today. And trust him.